Runs In Transit

Month: January, 2015

Boyhood vs. Birdman: Battle of the Concept

A month from now, either Boyhood or Birdman will win an Oscar for Best picture. I say this with a good deal of certainty because Boyhood is the frontrunner in polls and Birdman won best movie in the Producer’s Guild Awards, a historically accurate predictor of Best Picture.

Of course, anything can happen, the Oscars are political and much can change in a few weeks. But I don’t want to talk politics. What I do want to talk about is what these movies share in common: an interesting concept in their direction.

Boyhood was directed over a period of 12 years, following a boy from age 8 to 20, while Birdman was shot and edited to look like a continuous take (it wasn’t; in fact it spans a few days). Both films explore the perception of time and aim to affect the viewer on a subconscious level. Whether they accomplish it well is unimportant. The fact that these movies are receiving the most attention in the media signifies a shift towards experimental film-making style becoming more mainstream, and I think that’s awesome for the film industry.

To be fair, neither of these films are the first to explore their respective concepts. Richard Linklater shot the Before trilogy with 9 years between each movie, the same amount of time passing in the characters universe. Likewise, the long take is used extensively by many directors, some attempting to shoot a whole movie in or at least appear to be one take. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope is an example.

But to see these movies attracting so much attention today, in 2015, is exciting. I won’t weigh in on who should win because they both deserve it, but I will delve into the ways they affect the viewers psyche.

Boyhood is calm and understated. It takes you into the small events that everyone experiences but pass us by. Interestingly, it does this while passing many of the big milestones in ones life. Like the end monologue, the film’s message is that life is experienced in the moment and not in the events that take place, and this important. Boyhood is two and a half hours of a boy growing up in the 2000’s while the same boy is growing in real life. It’s true but never brutal, and above all, it’s introspective. The boy’s conversations reveal his constant desire to obtain a deeper understanding of life and the gut-wrenching lessons he learns from the people around him when he gets his answer. The feeling it conveys is that if an entire adolescence can be flipped through in less than three hours, then our whole lives are mere specs in a greater picture. The film almost begs you to make every day moments count, and in that regard, it is very successful.

Birdman depicts the struggle of a man fighting with his inner voice. The constant long takes put us directly in his shoes and we view his crazy but relate-able workings. He deals with common middle age problems like career, reputation, family, and love, and their constant pull on each other drive the decisions he makes every scene. As the film draws you in on a creative level, the main character fights with his own creativity as he struggles between artistic fulfillment and success, knowing both are beyond his reach. The scenes of a hectic theater production and crowded New York streets run parallel to his convoluted thoughts. Although the movie is comprised of long takes, the camera never settles. It’s like we are the audience in his theater, captivated by the enormity of the actor’s passion, but never given an opportunity to stop and reflect. Only when it is over do we take a deep breath and empathize with the main character. And by then, he gets what he wanted all along. The film’s message? Only when we put everything into our work and let our passion take over can we achieve inner happiness.

birdmanboyhood759May the best concept win.

Purity and Flow in Sports

It seems like sports are getting more and more complicated every year. Take the NFL playoffs this year. Every game has had at least one controversial referee decision that dominated headlines. During the games, commentators, coaches, and players debate endlessly the intricate details of pass-interference calls or subjective unsportsmanlike penalties that change the momentum of the game. After the game, the media prolongs these discussions for weeks. And of course, fans hold those moments vividly in their memory, placing the blame for losses on bad calls rather than actual play.

To be fair, I’m slightly exaggerating because for all its faults, football remains a sport where penalties affect on average 40-70 yards per game, which equates to a touchdown or two at most. But these calls often happen in crucial moments that obstruct enjoyment of the game. As a huge fan of football, I’m worried about the future of the sport for two main reasons.

First, football is becoming less pure of a sport and getting more and more complicated. The rules for pass-interference alone, linked above, are 700 words long. That is insane. In a sport that emphasizes high intensity and explosive action, there is no place for memorizing intricate rules that resemble texts from a law handbook, let alone ones that depend on a referee’s discretion.

Secondly, football is losing flow, in the sense that the game moves with many obstructions. The average football game only has 11 minutes of actual play during a span of 3 hours and 45 minutes on average. This number has been steadily decreasing because of various rules that push the sport toward a pass-oriented game that minimizes long plays that lead to injuries, such as kick returns. Keep in mind football once resembled rugby.

I am picking on football because it is one of the few sports I watch, but this trend is not exclusive to football and is not a new occurrence either. In basketball, fouls are just as subjective and perhaps dictate more of the game. In baseball, umpires use their eyes to judge whether or not the baseball is in a small box. Modern sports in general are moving away from purity and flow, and I think this is troublesome for their future.

I don’t believe football will be as popular in 50 years. I think society is going to value both safety and the return to sports with more purity AND flow. I can see a different sport taking over in the future, whether it’s a game like soccer or a sport that will be invented in the future. However, I’m not giving up on football. Major changes can happen, and maybe more fans need to feel as I do to change the nature of the game.

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Roger Goodell, read this.

Running a Clan in Clash of Clans

Running a clan in Clash of Clans is harder than it seems. As the number of members increase, difficulties in communications and organization arise. Here are some basic guidelines I’ve learned from running a 20-member clan:

1. First, remember that Clash is a mobile game, so the only goal is to have fun. But of course, emphasize that it’s more enjoyable for everyone when you win as well – especially with lucrative loot bonuses.

1. Participation. Understand that it’s not always possible for everyone to attack for whatever reason (school, vacation, work, etc.), and it’s okay if someone misses a war or two. However, when someone misses a lot in a row, it becomes a liability. Consider kicking temporarily and allowing them to re-join.

2. Attacking. Likewise, everyone messes up attacks. Don’t expect everyone to always do amazing, but if they are clearly ineffective (zero and one stars), help them out. Advise them to try something different.

For example, show them viable strategies that have been tried and tested like mass dragons, hogriders, or giants-wizards-healers, and emphasize avoiding common mistakes such as:

  • Not luring out the clan castle and getting destroyed by the troops inside.
  • Dropping heal spells too early and using rage spells incorrectly.
  • Using wallbreakers without a tank.
  • Mass dropping unts so they clump up and die from a bomb.

4. Emphasize attacking near your rank and the fact that the dropoff between a 3 star and a 2 star is massive, so only attack a base if you know you have a chance of getting a 3 star. Additionally, if you’re low rank, to attack earlier in the war so higher ranks can fill in stars.

5. Lastly, sometimes in close wars it is necessary to remind someone to attack. Since members don’t necessarily know each other, try to have other forms of communcation (texting, twitter, facebook).

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The sweet science.

The Genius of Hemingway

Decorated war hero, deep-sea fisherman, boxer, U-boat hunter, not to mention one of the greatest writers of all time, Ernest Hemingway was a jack of all trades, but his literary style was truly groundbreaking. Many people know that he introduced a style of prose that was succinct yet powerful, but to say so is a massive understatement.

You see, before Hemingway, most novels were written in a descriptive and “flowery” style characterized by the Victorian period. You might remember reading Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities in English class and perhaps complaining about their lack of approachability. But then came the First World War and a whole generation of writers like Hemingway who were deeply shaped and scarred by their war-time experiences. These writers felt a disconnect with post-war life and wanted to express a less romantic, more ennui-filled mood in their work. When Hemingway published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, about this feeling, a whole generation was inspired and the course of modern literature was altered forever.

You were probably once taught to “show, not tell” and to “be concise” in writing, and we have Hemingway to thank (or blame) for that. His minimalist style focused on stating things that were evident on the surface but not the underlying themes, later coined “Iceberg Theory”. He forced readers to interpret their own meaning and focused on telling a story so true that it can have many different meanings. Of course, you might find this style boring, especially if you are not a fan of his subject matter, but there’s no denying his genius, especially at describing the most simple things, and the way he accomplishes this deserves more attention. Take this excerpt from The Old Man and the Sea for example:

“Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.”

There are many things to note here:

1. First, he almost exclusively uses short words. The longest word is “showing” but only because of the suffix “ing”, and the average word length is only 3.6 letters. The effect of this is that each sentence is extremely curt and almost sounds staccato. By making the most economic word choices and taking off all of the “fat”, he takes the reader directly to the point as quickly as possible in a clear and unfiltered way.

2. He uses adjectives sparingly. There are 16 nouns, 7 verbs, and 3 adjectives in this passage. This means the reader gets no help from the author in forming a descriptive image. Instead, you have to derive as much meaning from the few adjectives (“alive”, “high”, and “great”) as you can and rely on nouns and verbs to form descriptions. Not only does this make each adjective much more powerful, but it forces you to discover the heart of the story.

3. He avoids punctuation. In many places, especially the first sentence, proper grammar would dictate the use of a comma. Hemingway disregards this and uses the word “and” in place of a comma many times. Of course, this is done purposely to minimize pauses, the intention of which is to convey a sense of immediacy, making the reader feel like the scene is really going on in the present moment and putting you in the shoes of the protagonist.

4. Lastly, he uses flow to alter the passage of time. The first sentence is long and just when it feels like it is going to end, it is extended with an “and”. This creates a buildup where time is dragged on, giving a sense of length. The second sentence describes the fish hanging in the air, freezing time. Then immediately, the fish “fell into the water with a crash”, bringing the reader back to reality. By doing so, the reader can form a much more visual image even in the absence of description.

I could go on, but you get the point. Each paragraph Hemingway has written can be deconstructed,  each sentence containing a meaning that extends past what meets the eye. Hemingway truly was a genius, and every novel after him was influenced by his work either directly or indirectly. If it were not for him, I know I would not be the same writer.hway8
The man, the myth, the legend. Rest in peace.

PS: if you want to get started with his work, I recommend A Farewell to Arms if you enjoy war and romance, The Sun Also Rises if you enjoy partying and bullfighting, and The Old Man and the Sea if you enjoy fishing and nature.

Two Stories on Self-Actualization

A high school counselor once told me, “in middle school, you begin to get a grasp of who you are, and maybe understand 20% of yourself. In high school, you start to get a good sense of your identity, and maybe get 60% there. In college, you get very close, perhaps 90%, and you begin to be pretty sure of your self, your passions, and your personality. The rest of adulthood is just finishing that last 10%.”

Her words stuck with me, and I’ve told them to myself again and again. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to change its interpretation. I used to use her advice as an excuse to not have a “passion” or a true direction in life, thinking that it will all come with time. But then something happened. I went to college, graduated, and was no closer to discovering what I wanted to do with my life. So what did her advice really mean?

Looking back, my counselor was someone who pursued a career as a singer but gave up those dreams to become a high school counselor. She was someone who knew what she wanted to do at a young age, pursued it to its fullest (and according to her, was quite good), but as she grew older, came to the realization that it wasn’t for her, that working with teenagers was her true calling. In this context, her advice meant something completely different. She was telling me that knowing who you are is not the end of the journey, that even that understanding is subject to change.

A few days ago, I woke up with a dozen emails on my phone. They were comments from a blog post I made about Settlers of Catan. To my surprise, there were 20,000 views on the post. Thinking they were spam-bots, I looked at where they were coming from. It turns out that whoever runs the Settlers of Catan facebook page, which has 316k likes, posted my link to the front page. Within a few days my blog’s total viewers shot up from 500 to over 30,000.

The next few days, I felt the need to write more about Settlers of Catan or game strategy in general. I wanted to follow up on something that was successful because of the positive affirmation I received from it. But as I thought about it, I realized that doing so would be going against the reason I started this blog in the first place –  to write about whatever I want whenever I want. If I wrote about what other people wanted to see, I would have given up a piece of that freedom and perhaps eventually lost the motivation to write in the first place. Success, in this case, had the potential of taking priority over interest.

What do these stories have to do with each other? Well, ever since you’ve been a child, your parents, teachers, and friends have shaped who you are by telling you what you’re good at. By doing so, they’ve pushed you in those directions. And this makes sense. In a world with 7 billion people, you almost have to specialize in something, not to mention be good, in order to make a living. But what if you didn’t like the specialization that you ended up in? What if that specialization crowded out other ones that you would have enjoyed much more? Is success more important than passion in this case?

I think what my counselor was trying to tell me was that you will always be learning more about yourself. Although your passions might stay the same, you will adopt new ones as you discover new paths. Pursue your passions, but be aware that one day you might find a different calling, and that it is okay to change your direction in life. Additionally, be cautious of people telling you you’re good at something. They could say you’re the best in the world, and they might be right, but don’t let it dictate what you do. Pursue things naturally, take advice with a grain of salt, and above all, keep learning, because life is too short to put success over happiness. Be adaptable and don’t live your life narrowly or according to other people’s guidelines.

In the same vein, I’ll keep blogging about the random things that pop into my mind.

Gardens: starsHere’s a cool picture of the sky. The answer’s gotta be out there somewhere, right?

2015

So this is the new year.
I don’t feel any different.
And I have no resolutions.

It’s funny. Resolutions make it seem like problems have easy solutions. That because one number changes, we have the opportunity to turn a new leaf. But a new year is arbitrary. Today is really no different than yesterday. The past will still creep up on us, and the future is never as easy to change as you think. That’s why so many people revert back to their old ways in a week or two (look at the gym).

So if resolutions aren’t an effective way of improving yourself, what are? I don’t know, but I think it involves more discipline than empty platitudes. So fuck resolutions. Here are some things I’m GOING to do this year.

1. Lift and run every day. Eat clean. Get in great shape.

2. READ every night.

3. Record an EP. Keep blogging. Be creative.

4. Cut off the internet. Less Reddit, less phone.

5. Travel alone.